Monday, 3 November 2008

Love And Honor (2006) @ 武士の一分

Did she just prostitute the family pride for 30 koku of rice?

At a glance:
Rei Dan 檀れい as Kayo
Wonderful – the finer points of dyin are again available on general release! When do we die? Why do we die? How should we die? In a year of movie trilogies (some would hope they stop at just the three), Yoji Yamada puts forth Love And Honor 武士の一分 (2006) the third film of his samurai series after Twilight Samurai(2002) and Hidden Blade (2004). The billin for this movie could almost fool someone into thinking it might resemble that Tom Cruise Hollywood schlock, The Last Samurai, especially its choice of English titlin, but all the solid, subtle elements of arthouse cinema are thankfully retained. The skinny? In feudal Japan, official Court taster Shinnojo Mimura lives with his wife, Kayo, in the palace town. They get by comfortably enough with his 30-koku (enough rice to feed one person for one year) annual salary, although he had always wanted somethin more challengin, like openin a kendo dojo to teach young kids. Tragedy strikes by way of fish [spoilers] – a sashimi dish was prepared poorly and Shimmojo is poisoned. Upon recovery, he discovers he's blind. Kayo and concerned relatives fuss over the fate of the couple, as Shinnojo is now rendered useless in the palace town and his wife wants to work (big no-no). Fortune favours the blind samurai when palace officials issue a decree which would support him for life but Kayo is implicated in a possible sex-for-food trade-off with one pervy Chief Duty Officer. Did she just prostitute the family pride for 30 koku of rice? Disgraced, Shinnojo divorces her without investigatin further, and challenges the 'receivin' official to a sword duel. Yet, there's still a way out for everyone.
Bad news on the doorstep:
Don't remember complainin. It did what it wanted to do.
Perennial wonderment:
OK. Let's fight.
Ancient bushido codes are displayed in the film – how a man's life is a sequence of moments and nothin more. Conservative Asian pride is also beautifully alive, especially in all the moments where the characters make irrational decisions, all in the good (and dead) name of love and honour. Love, in this movie, is profoundly selfless and not always theatrical. This lends a lot of heart to the story. Honour, on the other hand, is mostly indistinguishable from love (as it was in more romantic times), and viewers are given a chance to believe where the two elements were once one and the same.
Reminds me of:
When the two elements were once one and the same.
Sex-for-food solicitation, samurai-style.
Amacam joker, berapa bintang lu mau kasi?
Some would say this could be an offbeat character study but the cinematic devices in its execution suggest otherwise. The motivations of each character are subtle yet always accessible; Kayo tells the blind Shinnojo that there are no fireflies although plenty are flyin about. The appeal lies in its simplicity of story. Traditional roles of men and women are played with quiet conviction - the domesticated wife, the disgraced husband, the greedy official, the foolish servant - all serve the story well. Lead pair Takuya Kimura and Rei Dan are thankfully convincin in their meditation and guilt, failin which would have resigned the cast to commit seppuku, you'd think! There is no morality discussion here – just a quiet, simple samurai story of redemption. Perhaps the silence of bygone sentiments can speak louder now when contrasted against the more eye-pleasin aspects of commercial drama. Surprisingly, due to its more accessible themes, this film may just find some fans outside those already resolved to watch it – unlike the samurai in the film who are never negotiable.★★★1/2